Kenya-Dutch PPP puts new twist on ancient farm technology

Kenya-Dutch PPP puts new twist on ancient farm technology

Public-private partnerships are increasingly important as less direct-funding occurs. At the same time businesses see opportunities to join with organisations such as SNV Kenya to make a difference.

Recently, the first shipment of Land Life Company’s product—the Land Life Box—arrived in Kenya. The boxes will be used in SNV’s supported avocado project with smallholder farmers adjacent to the Rift Valley region, as well as in a mango project with an SNV-supported farmer’s cooperative in Makueni county.

The Land Life Box uses ancient practices with a modern technological twist. In doing so, it delivers water slowly and over time to the roots of young saplings planted in this donut-hole center. “Indeed the principle of burying a temporary water reservoir with a wick is old: in India, people used to bury clay pots with cotton wicks,” Nijssen explains.

The Land Life Box adds value in areas with semi-arid climates and in serious need of rehabilitation of degraded soil. Though trees still survive in these areas, the Land Life Box provides easy-to-manage help to increase their survival rates, without back-breaking work by farmers hauling water to orchards on a daily or weekly basis.

“Kenya, with its distinctive dry seasons, is an excellent example of a climate suitable for the Land Life Box,” Nijssen says. “We see Kenya as an important entry point in East Africa, because of its climate, as well as its prospering economy. Kenya is also an important exporter of fruits and, thus, plays an important role for international food security.”

The Land Life Box was designed and developed by Land Life Company, a Dutch company. Made from recycled composite material or pulp, the reservoir is manufactured in Germany while other components—the wick, a tree shelter to protect young trees from curious monkeys or other local varmints, an evaporation sheet that prevents water from escaping the soil, and mycorrhizal fungi which aid the young trees in finding water and nutrients—are sourced from various suppliers.

Land Life Company turned to SNV when it began exploring the African market. “SNV has a wide network in Kenya, ranging from local farmers to governmental agencies and foundations,” Nijssen noted. “SNV is instrumental for us to enter Kenya and meet the right people to set up our first pilot project. Also, SNV helped us to understand the economics of Kenyan farmers, especially those involved in our pilot, who are also those involved in SNV’s avocado project with Mara Farm. Improving the farmer’s business is key to the success of everyone between those smallholders and consumers—from farm to table, if you will.”

With the arrival of the first shipment, Mara Farm will use 60 of the Land Life Boxes, while the mango cooperative will use 40. Twenty more have been designated to both smallholder farmers.

“We want to be able to demonstrate the benefits of the Land Life Box on large-scale farms and for smallholder farmers,” explains SNV Senior Economic Development Advisor Alphonse Muriu. “Using the Land Life Box under different conditions and with different size farmers will allow SNV and the company to analyse how it works. These pilots also become valuable to identify adjustments to be made to conditions here in Kenya. Most importantly, farmers can see what benefits are gained on the farm using this old technology with a new twist.”